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Pioneering Interactive Media Installation Opens at Getty Research Institute

The Danube Exodus: The Rippling Currents of the River by Hungarian artist Péter Forgács and the Labyrinth Project immerses museum visitors in the stories of German and Jewish refugees fleeing World War II

July 18, 2002

Los Angeles--The Danube Exodus: The Rippling Currents of the River, on view August 17 through September 29, 2002, at the Getty Research Institute, presents visitors with a unique interactive media experience that immerses them in the sights and sounds of Jewish and German refugees fleeing in opposite directions along the same path to avoid the onslaught of World War II. This exhibition is a collaboration between Hungarian artist Péter Forgács, the Getty's design team, and the Labyrinth Project, a research initiative on interactive narrative at the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Communication.

Visitors to The Danube Exodus installation use a touchscreen interface to navigate through three different, yet intersecting tales. Set in 1939, one story tells of Eastern European Jews fleeing Nazi persecution, trying to reach a ship on the Black Sea that will transport them to a new home in Palestine. A parallel or counter story, set one year later in 1940, following the Soviet re-annexation of Bessarabia, tells of émigré Germans abandoning their adopted Bessarabian homeland to return to Germany. Both groups were transported along the Danube River by Captain Nándor Andrásovits—an adventurer and amateur filmmaker who documented not only these historic journeys but also his own explorations of Central Europe. The third story is that of the captain and the river.

The exhibition also includes early 18th-century maps of the Danube River and drawings of the region from the special collections of the Research Library at the Getty Research Institute. The project was launched during Forgács’ residency at the Getty Research Institute in 2000-2001 in response to the theme “Reproductions and Originals” and will kick off the 2002-2003 theme—“Biography.”

“The innovative and interdisciplinary approach of this exhibition is a powerful demonstration of the Getty Research Institute’s commitment to extending the boundaries of art and its historical meaning,” said Thomas Crow, director of the Getty Research Institute and member of USC’s art history faculty. “The Danube Exodus is a one-of-a-kind experience that we are thrilled to be able to present to Los Angeles.”

The Danube Exodus creatively blends images and sounds of the past using technology from the present,” said Elizabeth Daley, executive director of the Annenberg Center and dean of the USC School of Cinema-Television. “And through this melding of old and new, installation visitors from this century can glean a fascinating perspective on one of the most turbulent moments in the last century.”

Three Perspectives Flow Together

The Danube Exodus: The Rippling Currents of the River springs from film footage shot over a half century ago by Andrásovits, captain of the Danube river steamer Erzsébet Királyné (Queen Elizabeth). Having originally crafted this “found footage” into an award-winning one-hour film for Dutch television, Forgács teamed up with the Labyrinth Project to transform the material into an immersive experience that compels viewers to compare what Forgács calls the “incomparable duet of the German-Jewish exodus.”

“Art is not what can be physically seen in the installation,” said Forgács. “Rather, art is that certain intangible thing that each visitor will see. Art is happening in the visitor’s mind,” he added.

Through its use of touch-screen technology, the installation allows visitors to experience history as a stream of moments and memories that can always be understood in new ways, with each new intersection and reverberation made possible by shifting combinations of design, choice, and chance.

“What our interface designers found most challenging and exciting was the ongoing process of re-orchestrating the captain’s original footage—as it moved from one medium or historic moment to another, with its meanings constantly changing and its narrative field constantly expanding,” said Marsha Kinder, the noted USC cinema professor who started the Labyrinth Project, which has been producing interactive documentaries and electronic fictions in collaboration with independent artists since 1997. “Visitors are drawn into this process,” she added, “not only by choosing what they see and hear, but also by bringing their own personal memories and associations to this haunting material.”

From the 18th to 21st century

After viewing the early 18th-century maps and drawings of the Danube region compiled by Count Luigi Ferdinando Marsili that are on display in the exhibition gallery, visitors can proceed to the installation space to navigate through three adjacent arenas. On their left, they encounter the story of the Jewish exodus through a large projection of silent footage of that particular story. They also have access to background material and interviews with passengers on two large monitors with touchscreen interfaces and headphones. On the visitors’ far right, a parallel story unfolds with a similar format devoted to the Bessarabian Germans. In the central space, the implicit comparisons between the Germans and Jews play out powerfully and poetically on five large adjacent screens, as do the multi-layered readings of the captain and the river. The resulting effect is that of being immersed in a dramatic clash between giant images vying for control over the narrative space. Visitors will be able to use a touchscreen interface to select orchestrations that interweave the three narratives in new ways.

The mesmerizing power and impact of the experience in the central space is further augmented by an audio mix that includes ambient sounds of the river and harbor, the mechanical rhythms of ships’ engines, regional music from the period, songs and prayers of the refugees, voice-overs of the captain and his passengers, and the haunting minimalist music of composer Tibor Szemzö, who has collaborated with Forgács on all of his previous films.

Related events

U.S. Premiere Screening: A Bibó Reader
The Getty screens Péter Forgács’ latest film, A Bibó Reader, in which the artist uses found footage and original music by Tibor Szemzö to pay homage to the great Hungarian political thinker István Bibó (1911-1979), who served as minister of state in 1956 during the Hungarian revolution. A Bibó Reader screened earlier this year at the Cannes film festival.
September 5, 7:30 p.m.
Harold M. Williams Auditorium, Getty Center


Discussion Panel: Biography on Film
Panel discussion with Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Mark Jonathan Harris and artist Péter Forgács on their approach to biography in the highly charged context of the Holocaust. Special guests include Michael Roth, president of the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland; Michael Renov, professor of critical studies in the School of Cinema-Television at the University of Southern California; Robert Rosenstone, professor of history at the California Institute of Technology; János Varga, head researcher, historian, and archivist at the Hungarian National Film Archive; and panel moderator Marsha Kinder, director of the Labyrinth Research Initiative on Interactive Narrative at the University of Southern California Annenberg Center for Communication.
September 12, 7:00-9:00 p.m.
Museum Lecture Hall, Getty Center


Performance: Free Fall Oratorio
This multimedia project, based on the award-winning video Free Fall (1996-97) by artist Péter Forgács and composer Tibor Szemzö, presents a moving and intimate picture of the Hungarian Holocaust. Performing live against a backdrop of moving images, vocalists from the Gordian Knot Company of Hungary chronicle the family memories of amateur filmmaker and Holocaust survivor, György Petö, whose home movies form the basis of Free Fall.
September 14, 8:00 p.m.
Harold M. Williams Auditorium, Getty Center

All events are free and open to the public, but seating reservations are required. For information and seating and parking reservations, please call 310-440-7300 or visit www.getty.edu.

Note to editors: images available on request.

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About the USC Annenberg Center for Communication:
The Annenberg Center for Communication was established in 1993 through a $120 million endowment given to the University of Southern California by Ambassador Walter H. Annenberg. Through the numerous projects and initiatives it sponsors, the center supports active research that addresses practical problems in the convergence of technology and communications. It is directed by a team of respected leaders from arts and entertainment, as well as science, technology, and business, who all embrace the cross-disciplinary approach sought in the center’s projects. For more information, please visit the ACC Web site www.annenberg.edu.

The Labyrinth Project is a research initiative at the center, funded in part by the Rockefeller Foundation. Under the direction of Marsha Kinder, chair of the Critical Studies Division at the USC School of Cinema-Television, the Labyrinth Project explores ways to combine the compelling visual language of narrative cinema with the interactive potential and database structures of new media. For additional information about the Labyrinth Project and its activities, please email the group at labyrinth@annenberg.edu or visit their Web site www.annenberg.edu/labyrinth.

About the Getty:

The J. Paul Getty Trust is an international cultural and philanthropic institution devoted to the visual arts that features the Getty Conservation Institute, the Getty Foundation, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. The J. Paul Getty Trust and Getty programs serve a varied audience from two locations: the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.

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The Getty Research Institute is an operating program of the J. Paul Getty Trust. It serves education in the broadest sense by increasing knowledge and understanding about art and its history through advanced research. The Research Institute provides intellectual leadership through its research, exhibition, and publication programs and provides service to a wide range of scholars worldwide through residencies, fellowships, online resources, and a Research Library. The Research Library - housed in the 201,000-square-foot Research Institute building designed by Richard Meier - is one of the largest art and architecture libraries in the world. The general library collections (secondary sources) include almost 900,000 volumes of books, periodicals, and auction catalogues encompassing the history of Western art and related fields in the humanities. The Research Library's special collections include rare books, artists' journals, sketchbooks, architectural drawings and models, photographs, and archival materials.